Frustration and concern in Steamboat Springs after a big transportation bill crashes | SteamboatToday.com

Frustration and concern in Steamboat Springs after a big transportation bill crashes

Scott Franz

Some state transportation leaders are dismayed and frustrated after the recent crash of a bipartisan bill that would have asked voters to increase Colorado's sales tax to generate billions of dollars for road work.

The lawmakers and transportation commissioners now fear what the future holds if another proposal doesn't come along and greatly change the funding picture for the state's roads and bridges.

"More potholes. More congestion. More delays," State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush said Friday when asked what is at stake if the state can't change the funding picture. "And we're going to lose our competitive edge."

Mitsch Bush, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, was one of the key proponents of what many hoped would be a grand bargain to ask voters to raise the state sales tax for transportation funding. The bill would have specifically sought voter approval to increase the sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent to secure a $3.5 billion bond for transportation infrastructure.

The bill passed the house, but it went down after three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted against it and refused to advance it to a vote of the full Senate.

Lawmakers did secure $1.9 billion in transportation funding over the next 20 years by raising vehicle registration fees.

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But Mitsch Bush said she doesn't think it's nearly enough.

"It certainly doesn't cover our needs, and we have $9 billion in needs," she said.

According to the Denver Post, the question of how much new tax revenue should be part of a transportation budget solution remains a sticking point that divides some Democrats and Republicans.

In an in-depth look at the state's transportation funding crisis, the Post reported Republicans think the state should make budget cuts in other areas to fund road work, while Democrats don't see room for the cuts and think more revenue is needed.

Mitsch Bush said she took issue with some comments she heard from opponents of the bipartisan sales tax bill who argued the state hadn't yet explored all of the options to solve the issue.

"We have been exploring options since at least 2007," Mitsch Bush said. "We have explored all the options, and there just is no money."

Mitsch Bush said transportation funding has been labeled as a "crisis" for the state now for a decade.

"I think our future is at risk if we don't stop kicking the can down the road and fund 21st century transportation infrastructure," she said.

State Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Connell, of Steamboat, shared Mitsch Bush's dismay over the lack of progress on the transportation funding question.

"We're very sad, because Colorado has got a big problem," Connell said of state transportation leaders. "I'm very distressed people can make it so the people can't vote. This was a bipartisan deal, and that was huge. Everybody has been spending so much time educating the public about the need" for more funding.

Mitsch Bush said there is now talk of the Colorado Contractors Association taking its own ballot question seeking transportation funding to voters.

"Last I heard, they are going to have something on the ballot," she said.

Connell also had dire predictions for the state if more funding isn't secure soon.
She said the state cannot continue to do "Band-Aid" fixes and expect to keep up with population growth.

"We're going to have more accidents. We're going to have more highways down and bridges down, and we're going to have longer commutes on the Front Range and for people coming to the mountains," Connell said. "And that's going to have economic implications. And if you've been on I-25 lately going from Fort Collins to Denver, I mean, my goodness."

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10